Mediterranean Plants for Your Garden

12 sun-loving, easy-care landscaping plants from around the world By Ruth Chivers; Photography by Rob Cardillo

Share:

These plants offer the typical easy-care quality of most Mediterranean-climate plants but they also spring some surprises in flower color and form, foliage texture and growth habit. Remember that “Mediterranean climate” isn’t limited to Europe. It usually refers to areas with mild, wet winters and warm or hot summers during which little or no rain falls: this includes parts of north Africa, western South Africa, California, central Chile, and parts of western and southern Australia.

Mediterranean plants from around the world meet in the garden of Western Hills. Spiky orange flowers are Watsonia pillansii hybrids, from South Africa. Spiky tree is Cordyline australis ‘Albertii’, from New Zealand. Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

Appeal: Mediterranean plants add texture, color, an informal look—and a spirit of sunny lands—to almost any garden. Their ability to withstand dry conditions for long periods is a real plus in all climates.

Zones: Best zones for all-year growing are 8 to 11. In colder climates, overwinter plants in a greenhouse, treat as summer annuals, or choose only frost-hardy species.

Exposure: Many are sun lovers, and are well adapted to surviving a summer drought. But plenty will also thrive in semishade. Try woodland natives in shadier gardens.

Soil: Generally, Mediterranean plants prefer good drainage. In winter it tends to be wet, waterlogged soil, not simply cold weather, that often leads to their downfall. Most Mediterranean plants have adapted to drought conditions, but some do appreciate moisture-retentive soil in summer.

Apricot and bronze lilylike flowers of Alstroemeria ligtu hybrids wiggle through Western Australian grass tree (Xanthorrhoea preisii, a.k.a. “bad hair day on legs”). Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

Selecting & Growing Mediterranean Plants:

  • Go for plants that add form and texture to your planting—don’t be seduced by flower color and size. That’s an ideal, of course!
  • Never buy a plant you can’t provide a good home for—match your choice to the conditions in the spot you have to offer.
  • Mulch drought-tolerant plants with gravel—they invariably prefer poor soils, and stones set them off more aptly than bark. Mulching around plants also saves you weeding.
  • Be prepared to experiment—many plants can surprise you with their toughness.
  • Don’t be afraid to move plants around if they don’t thrive where you first plant them.
  • Look and learn from your plants—gardening is a lifelong process.

Plant List for a Mediterranean Garden:

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

1. ROCK PURSLANE (Calandrinia spectabilis)

The magenta flowers of Calandrinia spectabilis are 2 inches across and bloom in summer. This 2-foot-tall, frost-tender perennial needs full sun. It looks great in a container.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

2. YANAGI ICHIGO (Debregeasia edulis)

Little orange inedible fruit decorates the stems and branches. Notice the distinctive ridges on the leaves. This shrub makes a good background or hedge.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

3. CHINESE DREGEA (Dregea sinensis ‘Variegata’)

A twining climber with deliciously fragrant flowers. Grow in well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Young shoots should be tied to supports until they begin to twine.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

4. SMOKETREE (Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’)

A golden-leaved form of smoke bush or tree, it turns on the color fireworks in autumn with brilliant orange-red-purple foliage. Hardy to Zone 4 or 5.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

5. CANARY ISLAND FOXGLOVE (Isoplexis canariensis)

This foxglove relative has beautiful tubular, bright orange-yellow, brownish orange, or yellow-brown flowers.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

6. ANCHOR PLANT (Colletia paradoxa)

Not every gardener’s cup of tea, but some are intrigued by its odd, ancient good looks and drop-dead prickles.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

7. VIPER’S BUGLOSS (Echium vulgare)

Called viper’s bugloss, this bushy, bristly upright biennial has narrow, hairy, almost linear leaves. In early summer it produces short, dense spikes of bell-shaped flowers, purple in bud, violet blue when open.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

8. BUGLE LILY (Watsonia pillansii)

Bright orange to orange-red tubular flowers, summer to autumn. A slender clump-forming perennial, it looks very much like a larger crocosmia.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

9. POUCH FLOWER (Calceolaria tomentosa)

Golden flowers have collagen-enhanced pouty appeal. It’s called the pouch or slipper flower and grows 3 feet tall. Wych says this plant, despite its delicate looks, has lived through snow and can become rampant—for large gardens only.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

10. KANGAROO APPLE (Solanum laciniatum)

Called kangaroo apple, this vigorous, upright evergreen shrub has purple-tinged shoots, attractive deeply cut foliage, blue flowers in summer and fall, then orange fruit. Best in a wild garden.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

11. LIZARD PLANT (Tetrastigma voinierianum)

The lizard plant or chestnut vine is grown mostly for its lustrous, dark green foliage with brownish yellow hair beneath. This climber is a sprinter of a grower—if knocked back by winter cold, it will still grow 20 feet in a season.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

12. CUNCO ROJO (Colletia ulicina)

This is a real Dr. Seuss shrub—huge, weird looking, covered in red flowers. How well it grows in this area remains to be seen.

Thanks to Maggie Wych, former owner of Western Hills Nursery (where these photos were taken) for her insights.
This article was adapted from its original format for use on the web.

Watch this short video to see more Mediterranean landscaping plants.

RELATED:
Plants for a Modern Garden
A Mediterranean Garden in Berkeley

How to get the Mediterranean look

Made famous in the countrysides of France, Greece, and Italy, Mediterranean gardens have influenced many gardeners, with their soft colors, gravel walks, brightly patterned tiles, clipped hedges, informal and drought-tolerant plantings. And not to mention the delightful scent offered by the amazing number of Mediterranean plants with scented leaves.

Pleasing the eye, low-maintenance and typically water-wise, the Mediterranean garden look can be easily achieved through 9 key elements.

1. Shaded seating areas

The Mediterranean climate is so agreeable that seating areas are essential. They provide a place to unwind on a balmy summer evening or enjoy a coffee with the first rays of sunshine. However, in these sun-baked gardens, shade is vital. Pergolas are decorative structures that are ideal for providing necessary shade. They also make striking features, specifically when attractively covered with perfumed, climbing plants, which scent the evening air when you sit down and relax. Al fresco meals in the garden are a must and pergolas convert seating areas to inviting extensions of the house, adding intimacy and beauty.

Great plants to consider for pergolas:

  • Campsis grandiflora (Chinese Trumpet Vine) with glowing orange or red, trumpet-shaped flowers in summer and fall and oval, toothed leaflets.
  • Humulus lupulus ‘Aurea’ (Golden Hop) with golden leaves and pale green flowers in summer
  • Ipomoea (Morning Glory) with heart-shaped leaves and vibrant blue, purple or red, trumpet-shaped flowers
  • Jasminum officinale (Common Jasmine) with abundant clusters of delightfully scented white flowers
  • Climbing roses such as ‘Albertine’ with strongly fragrant clusters of cup-shaped, double flowers, starting as reddish-salmon buds and opening to large copper-pink blossoms; ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ – a vigorous climber with long and graceful, trailing branches bearing drooping light green leaves and large sprays of small, soft lilac pink, double flowers.
  • Vitis vinifera ‘Brant’ (Grape) a strong growing vine producing sweet, black grapes. Who could resist cutting luscious grapes while sitting outside on a late summer evening?
  • Wisteria beloved for its pendulous clusters of divinely perfumed flowers in spring.

2. Pots and containers

Terra-cotta pots and jars are a famous feature of Mediterranean gardens.

Used as focal points or for container gardening, they come in all possible shapes or sizes, from the simple pot, to the large urn or classical garden vases. Select pots with a wide base to ensure they are not blown over. Favor clay pots that will remain cool by evaporation to plastic posts that will absorb the sun’s heat.

Remember to regularly water your plants. A potted plant has a smaller reserve of water than a plant grown in the ground.

Add a glazed saucer beneath your pot to hold water on which your plant will happily draw.

3. Gravel floor

In Mediterranean gardens, where gardeners have long coped with too little water for their plants and gardens or with drought periods, lawns have been considerable reduced or even totally eliminated and replaced with paving or gravel or a combination of both.

This considerably reduces water usage, but also has the incredible advantage of being low maintenance and making long-lasting, attractive mulches.

4. Water features

Water features are a must in Mediterranean gardens to cool the air in the heat of summer. The gleam of water also adds a delightful dimension to any garden. A trickle of shallow water and a mister on the hottest days are very attractive.

Whether in ornamental ponds, pools or fountains, the sight and sound of water always provides an enjoyable relief from hot, dry summers.

Butterflies, bees and birds enjoy water features too!

5. Pebbles and cobbles

Cobbles and pebbles can be woven into intricate designs, a lovely Mediterranean technique.

These pebble mosaics have a rich history dating back to ancient times. They were used for pavements and were the earliest type of mosaic in all areas of the Eastern Mediterranean. They still can be admired in many Mediterranean towns and villages.

Use stones of various colors and sizes that you may lay flat or on edge and create your own design, just like the Moors in southern Spain!

6. Mediterranean tiles

Reminiscent of the Moorish mosaic, glazed colored tiles are very decorative and may be used to decorate walls or patio floors.

Bursting with color, these create lively mosaics and can be used in a wide range of climates to create dramatic color accents with their rich combinations of pattern and color.

Here they beautifully brighten up the vertical surface of the risers.

7. Succulents and drought-tolerant plants

While there are different styles of gardens across the Mediterranean region and thousands of plants to be used, those immediately coming to mind belong to the tranquil color palette of grays, purples and blue-greens. Here is the list of heat-loving and drought-tolerant plants, favored by gardeners and admired by onlookers. It includes a variety of fragrant herbs as scent is important in a Mediterranean garden:

  • Agaves – with their huge rosettes of spiky, fleshy leaves.
  • Artemisia (Wormwood) – masses of aromatic, finely cut, silvery foliage
  • Cistus (Rock Rose) – excellent evergreen, fully drought tolerant, with aromatic silver green leaves and large, rose like flowers.
  • Cupressus sempervirens (Italian Cypress) – adds height and drama to the garden.
  • Euphorbia characias (Mediterranean Spurge) – statuesque, evergreen perennial which enjoys months of chartreuse flowers
  • Festuca glauca (Blue fescue) – wonderful dwarf ornamental grass, mostly grown for its finely-textured blue green foliage
  • Genista hispanica (Spanish Broom) – spiny, gorse-like shrub with abundant clusters of bright yellow, pea-like flowers in late spring and early summer
  • Laurus nobilis (Bay Tree) – lovely glossy green leaves great for use in the kitchen. Versatile plant that needs no watering in summer and is highly resistant to shade and salt spray.
  • Lavandula (Lavender) – queen of the Mediterranean garden with its silver foliage and delightfully scented flowers
  • Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary) – quick growing evergreen, aromatic and pretty in bloom.
  • Salvia leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage) – prized for its ornamental and showy purplish and white flower spikes
  • Santolina (Cotton Lavender) – with fine-textured foliage and yellow, button-like flowers.
  • Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ears) – grown for its rich rosettes of showy, velvety, silvery tongue-shaped leaves, resembling lamb’s ears and bringing interest to the border
  • Yucca – evergreen plant with sword leaves and beautiful, large, creamy-white bell flowers​

Orange and lemon trees also add a Mediterranean touch. However, they will need to be planted in pots and sheltered overwinter unless you live in a Mediterranean climate.

8. Clipped hedges and topiary

They contribute to the garden’s architectural framework and make an excellent foil. Omnipresent of Mediterranean gardens is the Italian cypress (Cupressus Sempervirens), a very versatile, evergreen tree that adds height and drama, provides an attractive green backdrop all year round and is also ideal for privacy.

Clipped box is also currently used for low-growing hedges, providing both structure and basic ornament in all seasons.

9. Raised beds

Not only attractive, raised beds are all a fabulous opportunity for creating well-drained sites, an environment Mediterranean plants love.

They are also great at breaking the monotony, show plants off to their advantage and make gardening easier (no need to stoop!).

These raised beds can be formal or informal, dressed with gravel or mulch and even include larger boulders.

Mediterranean Garden Plants

A plant list inspired by the Mediterranean

Mediterranean gardens feature plants full of texture and color. In order to achieve the Mediterranean look select plants with blue/green foliage and purple or yellow blooms. It is also important to include plants with strong structure that will help define the garden. Evergreen trees and hedges are popular for this purpose.

More plant suggestions:

Thyme, santolina, bougainvillea, star jasmine, lamb’s ear, juniper, citrus trees, grape vines, sage, pomegranate, aloe.

  • Pro Tip:

    Limit your color use and think more about the texture of the plants.
    —Ive Haugeland, Shades of Green Landscape Architecture in Sausalito, CA

Desired plant characteristics for a Mediterranean garden:

  • Drought tolerant
  • Cold hardy
  • Tough and independent
  • In a Mediterranean-type climate, water is a luxury. The designer should always consider how efficiently such a precious resource is utilized. A plant palate that is in tune with the environment’s limitations helps to minimize water and maintenance needs.
    —Amelia Lima, Amelia B. Lima & Associates in San Diego, CA

Mediterranean Plants for Landscaping—Watch how this property was landscaped with Mediterranean plants such as lavender, santolina and lambs’ ear.

Learn more about Mediterranean Landscaping.

These look good growing together, they all enjoy the same conditions and they are almost entirely maintenance-free. If you fancy something a bit unusual that’s bang on target, try Euryops pectinatus, a shrubby plant with yellow flowers all summer and comb-shaped foliage.

It’s not always 100 per cent hardy, but it roots easily from cuttings. Keep a few on the windowsill over winter as insurance.

If you want one or two striking architectural specimens to give height to a border, hardy palms and yuccas look the part. Tamarisk is very Med, too, with tough, feathery foliage and a froth of pink flowers in summer.

You’ll need a climber for growing over the pergola – a grapevine makes the ideal scene setter or in a really hot, sunny spot south of Watford, try campsis, the exotic trumpet vine, which has huge, flame-coloured flowers in late summer. If you fancy scent, go with Trachelospermum asiaticum.

The flowers are white and propeller shaped, produced right through the summer with a hefty jasmine scent. But if you plump for flowering climbers on your pergola, remember that the flowers only appear on the outside of the structure – which is why grapes are usually favoured since the fruit hangs down the inside and looks far more decorative when you’re underneath.

For growing in containers, you’ll want plants that put up with heat and drought yet still produce plenty of colourful flowers, and keep going all summer. A tall order? Not really. There are several half-hardy perennials such as pelargoniums and lantana that fit the bill. Sun-loving daisies such as osteospermum, gazania and lampranthus also look very authentic.

They’ll all overwinter in a frost-free conservatory, they root easily from cuttings and they aren’t expensive to replace if things don’t go quite according to plan.

The big advantage of containers is that, being portable, you can rearrange them if you need to make extra room for visitors.

After all, Mediterranean gardens are designed to be sociable.

Your essential Mediterranean garden shopping list

Geraniums – or pelargoniums as we should properly call them – for pots, tubs and window boxes.

Olive trees, citruses, oleander or bougainvillea in pots so you can take them into the conservatory in winter.

Evergreen aromatic herbs: rosemary, lavender, ornamental sage, thyme and bay.

Palms: windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) and European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis).

Spanish reed (Arundo donax) – it’s not 100 per cent hardy, but great for tubs.

Grapevine “Leon Millot” is just about the best outdoor variety I’ve found for dessert grapes or go for Vitis vinifera “Purpurea”, which has bunches of small, edible, purple grapes.

Campsis x tagliabuana “Madame Galen” (trumpet vine) is a spectacular flowering climber. It’s also hardy and the most reliable campsis for this country.

Warmth-loving climbing roses: “Mermaid” (big single yellow summer flowers) or Rosa banksiae “Lutea” (flowering six weeks earlier with clusters of smallish, frilly, double, pale-yellow flowers) are ideal, but both might be just on the big side for most gardens today.

Euphorbia: this ideal sun-loving species includes Euphorbia mellifera (honey spurge), a large evergreen with clusters of small, rusty-amber flowers in early summer), E wulfenii with large, lime-green heads of flower in early summer, and E cyparissias, a low-spreading species with ferny foliage and heads of yellow flowers all through the summer.

The 10 Best Mediterranean Plants for UK Gardens

Old Olive Trees at the Plant Centre

2. Chamaerops Humilis Palms
Also known as the Mediterranean Fan Palm, this is an extremely hardy plant suitable for growing in the UK. These beautiful plants come in a variety of colours, leaf-styles and sizes. Whichever type you choose, these palms are tough, low maintenance and when established can withstand any degree of drought or wind.

Chamaerops Humilis Palm Tree (Mediterranean Fan Palm)

3. Trachycarpus Fortunei Palms
This spectacular palm is commonly referred to as the Chusan Palm or the Chinese Windmill Palm. Architectural plants are dominant in Mediterranean gardens and this palm tree with its remarkable fan-shaped leaves is an ideal choice. Flowering from May to August, this plant is fully hardy and likes a position of sun or partial shade.

Hardy Palms like Trachycarpus Fortunei (Chusan Palm) look spectacular in Mediterranean Gardens

4. Cupressus Sempervirens (Tuscan Cypress) Trees
The cypress tree has become synonymous with images of Italian vineyards in the heart of Tuscany; whilst this magnificent tree is a traditional symbol of the Mediterranean landscape, it actually originates from Persia. This is a deciduous tree that can survive for up to 2,000 years or more.

Italian Tuscan Cypress Trees conjuring up the spirit of the Med. They feature regularly in Mediterranean gardens

Cupressus Sempervirens (Tuscan Cypress) at our Plant Centre

5. Bay Leaf Topiary
Bay Leaf plants are a very attractive shrub that can be easily pruned into topiary shapes. Their dark green leaves are very fragrant, perfect for infusing your garden with an aromatic scent. Since Bay is a very slow grower, it’s ideal for container growing. At Paramount Plants we pride ourselves on our impressive range of sculpted plants; you can take a look at our full topiary collection here.

6. Trachelospernum Jasminoides (Evergreen Jasmine)
This stunning evergreen climber is the variety of Jasmine flowers that are used in perfume manufacture. Frequently found growing wild in the glorious South of France countryside, this impressive foliage will fill your garden with the heady scent of the continent and take you right back to your last holiday.

7. Agapanthus Africanus
Bold and architectural, Agapanthus are striking and they have become very popular in recent years. They also make fantastic specimen plants for pots and are surprisingly low maintenance.

Agapanthus Africanus, striking to look at, yet easy to maintain

8. Pine Nut (Stone Pine) Trees
This tall spreading coniferous tree has needle-like, soft leaves and produces brown cones which contain edible and delicious Pine Nuts. You can even combine the nuts from the lovely Pine Nut Tree (Pinus Pinea) with some tasty olives grown from your very own Olive Tree in a salad – you’ll feel as though you’re eating out in Spain or Italy!

9. Ligustrum (Italian Privet) Trees
Another fantastic example of topiary, the Ligustrum Lollipop is a very popular choice for adding architectural finesse to any garden particularly for a contemporary look. Small white daisy sized flowers appear in the Summer months. Despite their fancy appearance, topiary plants are easy to maintain and only require a trim a couple of times per year.

10. Butia Capitata Palm Trees
The Butia Capitata is one of the most popular palms in the world because of its graceful appearance, cold hardiness and bright yellow fruit – that can even be made into a delicious jelly! These palms are excellent in pots and well-draining soil. On hot days the silver blue colour is a beautiful site and cheers up any patio or roof terrace reminding us of Mediterranean holidays.

Mediterranean style gardens can work very well in our UK Climate

For further Mediterranean garden inspiration read The Beautiful Italian Lakes with Stunning Botanical Gardens.

Buy your Mediterranean style plants online now! Hardy palm trees, Olive Trees and lots more on the Paramount Plants website. We deliver throughout the UK and Ireland.

If you have any tips or recommendations to pass on to your fellow gardeners’ we would love to hear from you, please leave us a comment in the comment section below.

Garden in Devon – By choosing the right hardy exotic plants, you can easily create a Mediterranean style garden in the UK

Creating A Mediterranean Style Garden

Typically, when one thinks of an exotic garden, jungles come to mind with flowering vines, bamboos, palms, and other large-leaved plants. But did you know that many arid plants can be just as exotic, such as aroids, succulents, and cacti? These and many other exotic, colorful plants thrive in hot climates, perfect for an exotic Mediterranean style garden.

Tips for Creating a Mediterranean Garden

Mosaic tiles are commonly used in Mediterranean gardens and are seen decorating walls, tables and pots, regardless of size. Substitutes for mosaic tiles can come from broken dishes or stained glass. Simply use mosaic adhesive and sanded grout found in craft and tile stores. Instruction manuals will provide an array of design ideas as well. Alternatively, seashells can be implemented.

If space permits, add a small table and chair or two to create your very own sanctuary, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. For further ambiance, as well as privacy, grow climbing crops (grapevine) or fragrant flowering vines (honeysuckle) on rustic-looking vertical supports, such as a trellis or an arbor. This will allow you to make the most of your available space, even in the smallest area.

Even if your space is limited, you can still easily create a Mediterranean garden with the use of unglazed terra cotta pots. From doorsteps to patios and rooftops galore, the use of pots can provide the opportunity to include many types of plants. In a Mediterranean garden, you’ll find warm, dry air filled with many fragrant delights, like lavender.

Numerous heat-loving and drought-tolerant plants can be found here, as well as large architectural plantings, such as palms, bay topiary, and tree ferns. Pots of bamboo make excellent additions to the Mediterranean garden too. Fill in gaps with grasses and a mix of exotic flowers and fruits, such as lemon.

Create a Mediterranean garden wherever you live with bright colors and hot hues from flowers like:

  • Coreopsis
  • Blanket flower
  • Sedum
  • Sunflower

Set these off with contrasting plants in shades of blue along with silvery-gray foliage plants. Good choices are:

  • Artemisia
  • Catmint
  • Blue fescue
  • Mexican-bush sage
  • Lamb’s ear

Include a variety of fragrant herbs like lavender, rosemary, and thyme. Olive and citrus trees also provide a Mediterranean touch.

Lightly colored boulders placed within the garden will also help mimic the Mediterranean landscape. If your home’s architectural style doesn’t quite fit in with a Mediterranean style garden, you can try painting the garden walls a soft pinkish-beige or terra cotta. Finish off your Mediterranean garden with a layer of gravel mulch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *